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The Civil Reserve Air Fleet is part of the United States's mobility resources. Selected aircraft from U.S. airlines, contractually committed to Civil Reserve Air Fleet, support United States Department of Defense airlift requirements in emergencies when the need for airlift exceeds the capability of military aircraft.
During World War II civil air transport was widely used during the first two years of the conflict by mutual agreement between the Air Transport Association and the United States Army Air Forces until the Air Transport Command could acquire sufficient aircraft and train crews to handle the global air transport mission itself. After the war, the lessons learned were either forgotten or ignored when ATC was as severely demobilized as the rest of the U.S. military. In 1952, after aircraft were commandeered for the Berlin Airlift, CRAF was created as a more orderly way of serving emergency military needs.
The Fleet has three main segments: international, national and aeromedical evacuation. The international segment is further divided into the long-range and short-range sections and the national segment into the domestic and Alaskan sections. Assignment of aircraft to a segment depends on the nature of the requirement and the performance characteristics needed.
The long-range international section consists of passenger and cargo aircraft capable of transoceanic operations. The role of these aircraft is to augment the Air Mobility Command's long-range intertheater C-5s and C-17s during periods of increased airlift needs, from minor contingencies up through full national defense emergencies.
Medium-sized passenger and cargo aircraft make up the short-range international section supporting near offshore airlift requirements.
The aircraft in the Alaskan section provide airlift within U.S. Pacific Command's area of responsibility, specific to Alaska needs. The domestic section is designed to satisfy increased DoD airlift requirements in the U.S. during an emergency.
The aeromedical evacuation segment assists in the evacuation of casualties from operational theaters to hospitals in the continental United States. These aircraft are also used to return medical supplies and medical crews to the theater of operations. Kits containing litter stanchions, litters and other aeromedical equipment are used to convert civil Boeing 767 passenger aircraft into air ambulances.
The airlines contractually pledge aircraft to the various segments of Civil Reserve Air Fleet, ready for activation when needed. To provide incentives for civil carriers to commit aircraft to the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program and to assure the United States of adequate airlift reserves, the government makes peacetime airlift business available to civilian airlines that offer aircraft to the Civil Reserve Air Fleet. Department of Defense offers business through the International Airlift Services. For fiscal year 2005, the guaranteed portion of the contract was $418 million. Air Mobility Command (AMC) previously reported that throughout fiscal 2005 it planned to award more than $1.5 billion in additional business beyond the guaranteed portion of the contract.
To join Civil Reserve Air Fleet, carriers must maintain a minimum commitment of 30 percent of its Civil Reserve Air Fleet capable passenger fleet and 15 percent of its Civil Reserve Air Fleet capable cargo fleet. Aircraft committed must be U.S. registered and carriers must also commit and maintain at least four complete crews for each aircraft.
Carriers with aircraft whose performance does not meet minimum Civil Reserve Air Fleet requirements are issued a certificate of technical ineligibility so they can still compete for government airlift business.
Aviation safety is the paramount concern, and numerous procedures are in effect to ensure that the air carriers with which AMC contracts afford the highest level of safety to Department of Defense passengers. Prior to receiving a contract, all carriers must demonstrate that they have provided substantially equivalent and comparable commercial service for one year before submitting their offer to fly for the Department of Defense. All carriers must be fully certified Federal Aviation Administration carriers and meet the stringent standards of Federal Aviation Regulations pertaining to commercial airlines (Part 121).
A Department of Defense survey team, composed of experienced AMC pilots and skilled aircraft maintenance personnel, performs an on-site inspection of the carriers. This team conducts a comprehensive inspection that includes carrier's aircraft, training facilities, crew qualifications, maintenance procedures, quality control practices and financial status to maximize the likelihood that the carrier would safely perform for Department of Defense. After passing this survey, the carrier is certified by the Commercial Airlift Review Board as DOD-approved before receiving a contract.
AMC analysts then continue to monitor the carrier's safety record, operations and maintenance status, contract performance, financial condition and management initiatives, summarizing significant trends in a comprehensive review every six months. In addition to this in-depth review, there are several other surveillance initiatives. These include safety preflight inspections of commercial aircraft by Department of Defense designated inspectors, periodic cockpit observations on operational flights by highly experienced pilots from AMC's Department of Defense Commercial Airlift Division, and an increase in the frequency of on-site surveys. These initiatives and the surveys are further supplemented by an open flow of information on all contract carriers between AMC and the FAA through established liaison officers.
As of June 2014, 24 carriers and 553 aircraft are enrolled in CRAF. This includes 517 aircraft in the international segment with 391 in the long-range international section and 126 in the short-range international section. There are 36 aircraft in the national segment. These numbers are subject to change on a monthly basis.
Three stages of incremental activation allow for tailoring an airlift force suitable for the contingency at hand. Stage I is for minor regional crises, Stage II would be used for major theater war and Stage III for periods of national mobilization.
The commander, U.S. Transportation Command, with approval of the Secretary of Defense, is the activation authority for all three stages of Civil Reserve Air Fleet. During a crisis, if AMC has a need for additional aircraft, it would request the commander of USTRANSCOM to take steps to activate the appropriate Civil Reserve Air Fleet stage.
Each stage of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet activation is only used to the extent necessary to provide the amount of civil augmentation airlift needed by Department of Defense. When notified of call-up, the carrier response time to have its aircraft ready for a Civil Reserve Air Fleet mission is 24 to 48 hours after the mission is assigned by AMC. The air carriers continue to operate and maintain the aircraft with their resources; however, AMC controls the aircraft missions.
The following air carriers are members of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet:
Current CRAF information can be found at the U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of Intelligence, Security and Emergency Response: